Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nirvana Shatakam: Vedantic Meditation by Adi Shankaracharya

Nirvana Shatakam Vedantic Meditation

During the intensive yoga course I joined in 2011 at the Parmarth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh, I came across a profound and amazing stotra (hymn of praise) in Sanskrit. It is called Nirvana Shatakam (also known as Nirvana Shatkam, Atma Shatkam or Shivoham).

I was struck by the power of its words.  So much truth in each stanza. The first time I heard it I immediately thought with excitement, “This is pure Advaita Vedanta philosophy! A Vedantic meditation, a song for enlightenment.”

Chanting it made me shed some tears and I even felt goosebumps appear on my skin.

The Nirvana Shatakan

The Nirvana Shatakam answers the most important question that we can ask ourselves: Who am I?

It answers this question by negating everything that we are not, so in the end what remains is our true Self.

Getting to know our true Self and identifying with it is what is called in Yoga philosophy Samadhi (Self-realization or enlightenment).

Learning this chant/stotra and trying to understand its deep meaning is a form of meditation, a Vedantic meditation which is a contemplative practice.

It is also a way to practice one of the five Niyamas included in Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Svadhyaya (Self Study or Self knowledge) a practice also known as Self Enquiry.

The text was written by Shri Adi Shankara, the first Shankaracharya who helped to revive, preserve and spread the Advaita Vedanta philosophical system in India.

The song is actually a summary of the basic teachings of Advaita Vedanta so by learning the Nirvana Shatkam we are somehow learning Advaita Vedanta.

Advaita means non-dualism, this means that there is no duality but only Unity. The teachings of Advaita Vedanta are normally summarized in the following statement:
“Brahman (God) alone is real, the universe is unreal, the individual soul (Jiva or Atman) is no other than the Universal Soul (Brahman).”
This is actually what all Indian yogis like Swami Vivekananda try to remind us again and again: “There is no you or me; all variety is merged into the absolute unity, the one infinite existence – God.”

Something that I really like about the Nirvana Shatakam is that in order to negate everything that we are not it introduces different Sanskrit terms that are commonly used in Yoga philosophy.

  • The antahkarana or inner instrument: manas (mind), buddhi (intellect), ahamkara (ego) and chitta (unconscious mind)
  • The Pancha Bhutas or five elements: Akasha (ether), Vayu (air), Agni (fire), Ap (water) and Prithvi (earth).
  • The Pancha Koshas or five sheaths that cover the Soul,
  • The Pancha Pranas or five vital energy forces divided according to the functions that they perform in the body
  • The Jnanendriyas and the Karmendriyas, which are the five sense organs or organs of knowledge (eyes, ears, tongue, nose, skin) and the five organs of action (hands, feet, mouth, genitals, and anus)

The Nirvana Shatakam translation and transliteration

I found lots of versions of the Nirvana Shatakam on YouTube. I have included a few here although I prefer the way Mataji, the teacher at Parmarth Niketan Ashram, chants it.

Below these videos, you can find the whole text with the English transliteration and translation.

manobuddhyahaṃkāra cittāni nāhaṃ
na ca śrotrajihve na ca ghrāṇanetre
na ca vioma bhūmir na tejo na vāyuḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham

I am neither the mind, nor the intellect, memory, nor ego. Nor am I ears, nor tongue. I am not the nose nor eyes, nor the earth, space, fire nor wind. I am the limitless consciousness and pure self.

na ca praṇasajño na vai paṃcavāyuḥ
na vā saptadhātur na vā paṃcakośaḥ
na vākpāṇipādaṃ na copasthapāyu
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham

I am neither the five pranas nor the life breath. I am not the seven constituents of body, nor am I the five sheaths. I am not the organ of speech nor am I hands and legs. I am not the genital nor anus. I am the limitless consciousness and pure self.

na me dveşarāgau na me lobhamohau
mado naiva me naiva mātsaryabhāvaḥ
na dharmo na cārtho na kāmo na mokşaḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham

I do not have likes and dislikes, greed and delusion. I do not have pride. Nor do I have jealousy. I do not have pursuits of dharma, artha, kama and moksha. I am the limitless consciousness and pure self.

na puṇyaṃ na pāpaṃ na saukhyaṃ na dukhyaṃ
na mantro na tīrthaṃ na vedā na yajña
ahaṃ bhojanaṃ naiva bhojyaṃ na bhoktā
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham

There is no papa and punya, happiness or sorrow for me. Nor mantra, holy place, vedas or yajnas exist for me. I am neither an experience, nor am I the object of neither the one who is experiencing nor the one who experiences. I am the limitless consciousness and pure self.

na me mṛtyuśaṃkā na me jātibhedaḥ
pitā naiva me naiva mātā na janmaḥ
na bandhur na mitraṃ gurunaiva śişyaḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham

I do not have death, or doubt, nor do I have any caste differences in me. There is no father, mother or birth for me. There is no student, no teacher, no relative and no friend for me. I am the limitless consciousness and pure self.

ahaṃ nirvikalpo nirākāra rūpo
vibhutvāca sarvatra sarveṃdriyāṇaṃ
na cāsangata naiva muktir na meyaḥ
cidānandarūpaḥ śivo'ham śivo'ham

I am free of thoughts and free of forms. I am connected to all sense organs as I pervade everywhere. I am not connected to bondage or freedom. I am the limitless consciousness and pure self.

The Heart Sutra

The Nirvana Shatakam reminds me of the Heart Sutra, the most beautiful teaching that I ever heard from the Buddhist Tradition.

The Heart Sutra teaches the Buddhist concept of emptiness. It basically says that everything is empty, everything lacks inherent existence. If we analyze anything around us, including ourselves, we will find out that nothing really exists, at least not in the way that we think things exist.  It's all pure illusion.

Just another way to say what Shri Adi Shankara's Advaita Vedanta philosophical system says: “Brahman alone is real, the universe is unreal, the individual soul is no other than the Universal Soul.”

This realization leads to what the Buddhist call nirvana or enlightenment. You can read more about the Heart Sutra here: Learning the Heart Sutra at Kopan Monastery, Nepal

The teachings of the Indian yogis

The teachings of the Nirvana Shatakam are actually the ultimate teachings of the Indian yogis.  They constantly try to remind us that we are not this mere physical body and mind but much more than that.

Inspired by these teachings I created a sort of prayer for myself that I like to recite at the beginning and at the end of my meditations.

You can find that prayer in Awaken Sadhaka! And Realize Your Divine Nature.

I hope you've found this blog post inspiring and helpful.  Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. great post. i have to bookmark this :) thanks

  2. Oh thank you so much for your nice comment Coral, good to hear that you enjoy reading it.

  3. I love your post and interpretation of this amazing song Marco. I resonate completely with your experience of "shedding tears and getting goose bumps" every time I listen to my beloved Guruji Mohanji's version of it. Such power, such truth! Thank you Marco.

    1. Thank you Caroline! And thanks for sharing your guru's version. I love this text in any melody but I still prefer the first one I heard from the teacher at Parmarth Niketam Ashram. Namaste.

    2. Hi,

      Could you pls share the audio of the version that you learnt in your ashram

  4. Hello Marco,
    I also love this sloka. I'm not a fan of the versions that exist on Youtube - Do you happen to have Sadhvi Abha Saraswati's version recorded? Or - could you record it for us? :) That would be so great !
    (I need to ask my yoga teacher ut I haven't seen him lately)

    I also love the Shankaracharya morning prayer Pratah Smarana.The only verson I can find, not sung, but chanted is this one Do you know it ? It's a great one :)
    Om shanti